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Perfect Firewood - Fit to Feed the Flames


Perfect Firewood - Fit to Feed the Flames

Everybody knows water won’t burn. Most people who burn wood in a stove or fireplace also know that “seasoned wood” is best. However, what local woodcutters mean when speaking about “seasoned” wood and what the woodstove industry means are usually two different things. In a nutshell, the industry means firewood which has been dried (cured) for at least one year, while somehow being sheltered from rain & snow. This can be in a shed, basement or even simply covered by plastic (black plastic is best) or a tarp.
On the other hand, when talking about “seasoned” wood, local firewood vendors usually mean either wood that was simply cut a long time ago, or was already dead when cut.

The problem with this is that even if there is a month long dry spell, when it does finally pour, wood left out in the open acts like a sponge and can absorb as much or more water than what evaporated in that dry month! Such wood can end up soaking up so much water that by winter, as much as 50% of its weight may be water! Such wet wood is the largest single cause of frustration, dissatisfaction and poor performance in either a fireplace or wood stove.

Covering only the top of the woodpile allows wind to blow rain and snow onto the ends of the logs, which will absorb lots of water after only a few storms. Having a barn or shed to store wood is ideal, but tarps or simple plastic (down the sides, weighed down on the ground) are low cost solutions which work.

Excess water causes wood to smolder for a long time before it finally begins to burn briskly. In contrast, wood with ideal dryness added to a bed of hot coals will usually ignite with bright flames in only 30-60 seconds. The energy it takes to evaporate the excess water is unavailable as heat for your home. The lower temperature of the exhaust can also cause a poor chimney draft, allowing smoke to puff into the room. A smoldering fire also creates much more creosote, the dangerous black residue that builds up in the chimney, which can result in a dangerous chimney fire.

Excess moisture in the smoldering wood can often be seen boiling out the ends and makes a sizzling, hissing sound. The smoke is usually thick and dark and the fire takes a long time to catch. Woodstove glass will glaze over with a baked-on brownish mess. With dry wood, the self-cleaning glass feature offered by most better woodstoves will work most effectively.

In fact, for those who heat with a clean-burning high-efficiency airtight woodstove certified by the EPA to burn most all the smoke and creosote right inside the stove, using dry wood is even more important. The smoke and creosote actually amounts to 50% of any wood’s fuel value, which now is used to heat your home. However, burning wood left unsheltered until Fall will not allow any high efficiency wood stove or insert (either “catalytic” or “non-catalytic” - two ways of burning smoke) to generate maximum heat or operate to it’s full potential.
For those who discover their wood is too moist to burn well, here are some tips: First, split your wood extra fine to help it dry out much faster. Second, find some dry scrap wood from a business that generates piles of it, such as a cabinet maker, furniture factory, or pallet mill. Many businesses also give away stacks of free pallets. Adding dry wood scraps to the fire will help boil off excess water faster and make it catch much quicker.

What about different types of wood? Hardwoods (oak, ash, hickory, maple) are almost always superior to softwoods (pine, cedar, poplar, hemlock) because they are denser and “pack more punch.” However, using hickory in a fairly new high-tech woodstove (as opposed to a fireplace or even an old fashioned regular woodstove) is not recommended. When burned with little air, opening the stove door causes hickory to explode in showers of sparks, similar to lighting fifty Fourth of July sparklers! It also crumbles too quickly and by morning, ends up as a huge pile of coals buried in ash piled up against the loading door.

Here in the Upper Cumberlands, oak is the best overall wood choice and sheltering split firewood from the rain by March or April can usually yields excellent results by the heating season.

For more information on operating woodburning fireplaces and high-efficiency wood stoves and fireplace inserts, visit Custom Fireplaces & More at 1611 E. Spring St. (Hwy 70N in between Hwy 111 and I-40, exit 290) in Cookeville. Check our website at, or call us at 800-264-8181, or 931-526-8181.

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